Frank Klees

Frankly Speaking

Frankly Speaking
As published in the Auroran
December 18, 2012

It's Not The Money, It's Bill 115...... Or Is It ?

This past Thursday, elementary school teachers who work for the York Region District School Board were not in their classrooms. They were picketing to demonstrate their opposition to Bill 115.

I voted in support of Bill 115, and no doubt that's why my constituency office was targeted as one of the picketing locations. In a previous article, I explained that one of the reasons I and my colleagues in the PC Caucus voted in support of Bill 115, was because the legislation gives the government the authority to prevent precisely this kind of disruption to students and inconvenience and financial hardship to parents.

Students and parents should not have to suffer the consequences of a dispute between the teachers' unions and the government.

I find it unconscionable that the Minister of Education is allowing these strikes to take place. Bill 115 gives the government the authority to not only ensure that teachers are in the classroom teaching, but also imposes substantial fines on those who don't comply. Instead, teachers are being threatened with $500 fines by their unions if they refuse to strike.

Bill 115 was passed into law by a democratically elected legislature.

The teachers' unions have initiated a legal challenge to the constitutionality of Bill 115. Fair enough - that's their right, and we'll see what the courts rule on that challenge. In the meantime however, while that case is being heard, teachers should be in their classrooms teaching, students should not have their education and extra-curricular activities interrupted and parents should not be subjected to the financial hardship and inconvenience of a strike.

Interesting that the message from the Elementary Teachers Federation of Ontario (ETFO) has taken an interesting turn. It used to be about money and sick days. Now, the latest ads tell us that it's not about money - it's about Bill 115 and how it's taking away "education workers' democratic collective bargaining rights". There's only one problem with this argument, and that is that it's simply not true. The unions are free to negotiate and were in fact doing so, until they walked away from the negotiations.

Why was the Ontario English Catholic Teachers Federation ( OECTA) able to negotiate an agreement ?

The more than 45,000 teachers who teach in our Catholic schools are in their classrooms. After months of negotiation, their union agreed to a deal that included a two year wage freeze and other concessions that recognize our fiscal crisis. At the time, Kevin O'Dwyer of OECTA said about students attending Catholic schools, " ...they'll have uninterrupted class and instruction. I think that's good for Ontario. I think that's good for students, parents and it's also good for our members."

If it's not about money, then why is ETFO not willing to agree to a similar deal ?

What is the message that teachers are sending ?

If the strikes and withholding of extra-curriculars are truly not about money and just about Bill 115, then I suggest that teachers are sending a very troubling message.

Essentially they're giving the government an ultimatum - repeal Bill 115 or we'll continue to disrupt the province's education system indefinitely, and students and their parents will suffer the consequences? It's one thing to disagree with a law and exercise the right of free speech through demonstrations, it's something else again when innocent parties are forced to bear the consequences of what are essentially bullying tactics aimed at the government.

Bill 115 was passed into law by a duly elected legislature. It doesn't get any more democratic than that. And because we live in a democracy, any citizen or group of citizens has the right to appeal to our judiciary for a ruling as to the constitutionality of laws passed by the legislature. That's how our the democratic, parliamentary system of government works.

Do the unions really expect that the legislature will repeal Bill 115 in response to their bullying tactics ? If so, consider the precedent the legislature would be setting. It's one thing to lobby for change, it's something else again when the tactics used boil down to what I can only describe as political blackmail.

The union leadership should rethink its strategy and take a responsible approach to resolving this issue. Allow the legal process to take its course with regard to their concerns with Bill 115, and get back to the bargaining table and hammer out a deal that recognizes the fiscal crisis of our province. The teachers and education workers they represent, students and parents deserve nothing less.

As always, I welcome your comments and advice. I can be reached through my website at www.frank-klees.on.ca or at 905 750 0019.

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